Untitled Document The History of Westville

Many thanks to Doug Sinnis for providing the following brief history of Westville which is a transcription of the article from the New Glasgow Evening News dated 31 Dec. 1962.

Editor's Note: The following history of the early days in Westville was written in 1956 by the late Andrew Roy, one of the Town's most prominent citizens for many decades. There have been many requests for a reprint of the article and it is given here just as Mr. Roy wrote it, although there have been a few changes in the Town since then. Mr. Roy died in 1961 at the age of 83.

The main seam of coal was discovered in the Westville area about 1865. Previous to that a small shaft was operated on the old Middle River Road, on the Westville side of Bear Brook, by a Captain MacKenzie, who took some hundred tons from a seven-foot seam. Finding he was on the lease of the General Mining Association he had to give up operation and the mine was closed down.

When the late James Roy (Sr.) came to this area and settled, in the middle of August 1866, the Black Diamond mine was hoisting one box of coal at a time with a horse and windless. They had two houses on the plant. One was the house now owned by Alex R. MacLeod, which was situated in the mine yard and was occupied by my uncle John Roy who at that time was manager. The other was the company office now owned by Harry Crockett.

On the Main street, then called Gairloch road, there were only two houses, one was owned by Roderick MacLeod, where the late W. S. Munsie lived in later times. This was next to the residence of Joseph Wright. It was destroyed by fire a good many years ago. The other house was owned by a Mr. Tingley, and stood on the spot where Mrs. H. A. MacQuarrie now lives. It was also destroyed by fire.

My father, and the late William Henderson Sr., bought a block of land from Robert Oliver of Middle River. The land belonged to his son James Oliver, who was at that time in California. The Roy lot extended from the line between H. E. Munro's store and Mrs. L. G. Ferguson's store to College St., along the main street and to Water St. in depth, and contained about an acre. It cost $80.00.
My father also bought the lower side of Water St., from College St. to what is now the Mrs. John Livingstone property. William Henderson bought the two adjoining lots.

As other families moved in, James Roy sold most of this property. He built the house, now a store, and until recently occupied by MacGrath's Hardware. This was in 1866 and he moved into it in January 1867. This was the third house on what is now Main Street.

My grandmother, Mrs. John Roy (Sr.) had a small store built on the lot now occupied by the store of Mrs. L. G. Ferguson and opened the first store in Westville. She handled groceries. Previous to that the women, my mother included, carried all their groceries from New Glasgow.
The lot where Fraser's Drug Store now stands was sold to a Malcolm G. MacLeod. On College St. lots were sold to Donald Hayman, Robert Gray, and Andrew MacNeil. On Water St. lots were sold to William Markland, Mrs. Foley and Dougald MacIntosh.

In 1866 the Acadia Mine was just through the clay, and the Drummond had a small shaft in the centre of where the Drummond Square was later built. It was called the Campbell Pit. Construction was started on four lines of railway into Westville. The Black Diamond Company were building a line from the mine to Granton, where they built a shipping pier. They built a pitch pine bridge 100 feet high almost on the spot where the present Horne's Bridge stands. This line from the Westville Station to a point near the Sylvester Bridge was taken over by the I.C.R. when the Pictou branch was built.

The Black Diamond used two locomotives. No 19 was their road engine, and the Magnet used as a shunter in the yard. They also had a large number of coal cars. These were built on the English model, with two bumpers, and a chain of couplings, with side brakes.
When the company ceased operations in the 70's about 1875, having struck the down-throw, which the Acadia and Drummond successfully overcame years later; this was about No.5 lift.

After the Black Diamond was closed, coal was shipped over their rail line in summer months from the Acadia Mine. This line was the wide gauge and a third rail was necessary in the Acadia yard. The engine used was driven by Michael O'Neil with his son as fireman.

Water was selling at a cent a bucket in Westville. The O'Neils used to fill their tender at a spring just beyond Horne's Bridge. The line ceased operations when the I.C.R. took over a portion of it and started to build the Pictou Branch. About 1890 the Nova Scotia Steel Company bought the Black Diamond mine and used engine No. 19 as a hoisting engine. They moved the Magnet away and used it as a shunter around the Iron Works at Ferrona. This company had about ten double houses, some of which are still standing, also a large house for the Manager, the house now occupied by Mrs. William Roy. In my boyhood the manager was a Mr. Angel who lived there like a feudal baron and did not mix in any way with the people of the town. After the sale of the property he moved back to the United States, as he was an American citizen. This company must have spent a fortune for not very much return.

After the purchase of this mine by the Nova Scotia Coal and Steel Company it was worked by a number of years by the Company to supply coal to the blast furnace at Ferrona. It was Managed by the late John William Sutherland, with the late James Reid of |Ferrona as the surface Superintendent. Upon the transfer of the blast furnace to Sydney Mines the old Black Diamond mine was closed down.

The Acadia Mine started to hoist coal late in 1866 or early 1867. It was first owned by a New York company, with James W. Glendenning as President and Jesse Hoyt as Manager. Mr. James Maxwell was mine manager for most of its operating time and due to his management and careful supervision the mine was considered one of the best and safest in the Province. The employees numbered about three hundred of which a goodly number lived at Asphalt and travelled to and from work by train.

The company was fortunate that they had only three miles of standard gauge railway to build from the mine to Stellarton Station; from there, their coal was shipped from Pictou Landing. This was prior to 1887 when the Company sold the road to the I.C.R. to be incorporated in the Pictou line.

The Company had their own locomotive driven by Sandy Fraser, but they used I.C.R. cars to handle the coal. Before the I.C.R. took over the line, the Acadia Yard extended to College Street on both sides of Main. The company owned three double company houses of which two are still standing on Main Street.

This mine never had a fire or an explosion in the mine, however, on Nov. 20th. 1894 at 8 P.M. the fire alarm sounded for a fire which broke out on the bankhead. This along with the boiler shed and engine house were burned to the ground.

A new bankhead was erected and the mine continued operations on a scale larger than before. About 1914 the mine was closed for a short time until the lease was given to the Intercolonial Coal Company, operators of the Drummond Mine, who continued operations on a small scale until the 1940's. This was removing coal mostly from the No. 6 lift and the undercoal. In its last days the mine was worked on a small scale by H. W. Wadden, who was formerly mine manager under the Intercolonial. The buildings were torn down and the land on Main St. sold for building lots. The rest of the yard was brought by Golding Brothers who now operate a sawmill on the site.

Many to the employees at the Acadia were there for a great number of years. When I worked there in 1893-94 F.H.S. Calnek and Jim Gregory ran the office. William Arnold was engineer, John Cumming, blacksmith, William Clark, master mechanic, and William MacKenzie, Dan MacIntosh and Roderick MacLeod, carpenters.

H.S. Poole was manager of the three collieries, Acadia, Albion and Vale. It is believed that the mine was only down to No. 11 and in splendid coal when the operation ceased in 1914.

The Drummond started with the small shaft in the middle of what was later the square in 1867. The slope on the main seam was started and a seven-mile standard gauge railway was built to Granton where for the next twenty-five years large amounts of coal were shipped from the company pier in the summer season. As well as a large schooner trade with Prince Edward Island, as many as three or four steamers of 3,000 tons were employed in moving the coal to Montreal.

The company had their own railway cars, and had at least eight locomotives at various times. I believe the oldest is now at the old Scott pit shaft. The others were the Donkey which hauled six loaded hoppers, No. 3, driven by Mr. Pero, No. 4 an old Grand Trunk engine with a coal hopper for tender, the Henry Budden which was involved in a collision with the C.N.R. engine at the cross-over and which was taken over by the C.N.R., The James P. Cleghorn, No. 2, and the Georgia Peach which is still running.

To handle coal in the winter the company built a line from the mine down over Bear Brook and joined the I.C.R. near the County home at Riverton. This line was torn up in 1887 when the present Drummond sidings were built, and the old roadbed was used for many years as a rifle range.

On May 13th. 1873 a terrific explosion took place in the mine killing about sixty men. The mine was flooded and remained so for a year when the Company brought out a mining engineer from Scotland, Robert Simpson. A large hose was erected for the manager, now vacant and know as Clare Park. About 1890 Mr. Simpson moved to British Columbia and was succeeded by Charles Fergie who afterwards became the President of the Company. About 1896 the railway was extended to Abercrombie and a $200,000 pier built. Mr. James Floyd was mechanical superintendent under Fergie and succeeded him as general manager. About this time coke ovens were built and an excellent quality coke was produced. A large coal washer and a brick plant for the manufacture of fire brick from local fire clay was running full blast. I worked at the Drummond in 1893 and I believe there was between 700 and 800 men working there then.

The company had a large number of miner's houses rented at a low rental. They were laid out in the form of a square with four rows near the mine, furnishing homes for seventy-five or eighty families. I think the rent was $2.50 a month. They were all torn down a number of years ago.
In April 1914 a boiler exploded at the main boiler shed killing five or six men and about the same time an explosion occurred at night in the main seam, causing all the lower workings to be flooded. About this time William Maxwell became manager and during his time made many improvements. He built a new airshaft to No. 2 mine in 1920 and a new slope into No. 2 in 1921. The Drummond continued to be the mainstay of the town until about two years ago when the Company decided to close the mine or sell out.

The picture looked pretty bad until an ex-local boy, Henry R. Thompson, stepped in and bought the mine. Mr. Thompson, like the writer, had worked for a number of years for the company and much credit is due to him for investing his money so his former fellow workers might continue in employment. I understand just over a hundred men are employed from three to five days per week. I hope the day will come when the old seam can be recovered and Westville come back to prosperity better than ever.

The writer was born in Westville, Oct. 23rd, 1877 and spent all his life there, except from March 1917 to March 1919, when on service in France. What is mentioned prior to 1882 is just hearsay and what I learned from my father who was one of the first settlers. The first thing I remember was when the Royal Oak was burned in 1882. This was a small hotel on the vacant lot between the properties now owned by Henry Stoneystreet and Tony Weatherbee. It was owned by Jack Smith and stood close to the present Weatherbee building. The only water available was from the town well near opposite the Roxy Theatre. The Weatherbee building was saved mainly through the efforts of James Mills, Mechanical Superintendent at the Acadia Mine who came along with the company's latest fire extinguishers.

The first citizens were mostly Lowland Scots from around Coathbridge. These people came out in the early 1850's and settled at Albion Mines and Cow Bay, now Port Morien. They consisted of Roy's, Johnstones, Wilsons, Grays, Hendersons, MacNeils, and Morrisons. Later arrivals were Wrights, MacEwans, Hales and others.

I believe Westville's first school was a four room Chelsea where the present Chelsea school stands. The first teacher was a man named Fraser and one of the first women teachers was a Miss Fraser, who afterwards married Ed Harris at Union Center. Among the early teachers were Janet Johnstone, Annie MacLeod, Cassie MacLean, of New Glasgow, Margaret Cameron, also of New Glasgow, Fanny, Olive and Lena Hamilton, A. P. Douglas, A. S. MacKenzie, Michael Muir, Tom Grant, W. O. Creighton, and many others.

A two-room school, later to have another room added was built where the H. A. MacQuarrie Monument on Drummond Road now stands. A two-room school was built at Chelsea and two rooms on Church St., on the grounds of the present High School. These were all the schools until after incorporation.

As the town grew there was a great and urgent need for water, and while nearly every family had a well, still the water supply was poor. Water sold for a cent a bucket and was measured very carefully. Old timers will remember the old water vendors: Tom Craig, Hugh Matheson, Charles Stewart, Malcolm MacNeil, and others. The need for water was in a large part responsible for the citizens taking a vote for incorporation. George E. Munro was first mayor and $60,000 was passed for the purchase of installing a water system. This was completed about the end of 1895 and has been much enlarged since.


Prior to 1887 when the first passenger trains ran on the Pictou Branch, the only way to leave town was by horse and buggy or on foot. As a result many livery stables flourished. Stables were run by Danny Robertson, John Dan Fraser, Robert Muirhead, Archie MacQuarrie, Jim MacCoull, Tom Roy, and Jack Stewart. Freight from Stellarton was hauled by James Andrew Marshall and the mails by Douglas MacIntosh. A parcel and passenger express was run every week day to New Glasgow by John Cameron, Irving Street, father of D. W. Cameron.

The Carmel Church was probably the first real church in town. It was, however, burned to the ground on the Sunday it was opened. It was immediately rebuilt. They had a settled minister, Rev. John Lees. St. Phillip's Church was erected soon after but was part of St. John's under Rev. Mr. Dunn until 1888 when Rev. T. D. Stewart was called. The Methodists built a church on College Street, which was afterwards moved to South Main St., and is now the Legion Hall. This church was served by a Stellarton minister until about the first of this century. St. Bee's Anglican was also on College St., until the new St. Bee's on Church Street was erected. The old church is now a dwelling house. St. Bee's was also under Christ Church for a good number of years.

The first Catholic Church was built next to the house of Mrs. William Hayman. The present church was built under Rev. Father Alex MacKenzie about 1920 and has been greatly renovated in the past two years.


Old time merchants were George E. Munro, James MacLeod, Thomas J. Gray, John A. MacDonald, Norman Gunn, Duncan Balfour, James Roy & Son, James Johnstone, Alex MacKenzie, J. H. Oliver, A. R. Munro, Robert MacDonald, Crockett Bros., Hugh MacGregor, Duncan MacGregor, A. V. Sutherland, MacDonald & Matheson, R. A. MacDonald, D. Rod MacDonald, Murdoch MacKay, Dan W. MacDonald, Alex Graham, Andrew Murray, James D. Munro, H. A. MacQuarrie, James Sutherland, Hugh MacLean, Fred Cameron, Brown & Sangster, Michael Muir, W. A. Reid and R. Fraser.

Doctors were Jones, Sutherland, Moore, Linton, J.C. MacDonald, Robert MacDonald, Irwin, Bruce and others in later years.
Old time barbers: Charles Sullivan Sr., Charles Sullivan Jr., Charles Allen, William Morgan, Andrew Brown, Jesse Harris, D. J. Murray, Robert A. Murray, Jeff Thompson, Isaac MacIntosh, Angus Ross, Gordon Marshall, Mert Fraser, Charles Murray, J. L. Johnson, A. MacEachern and John Muir.

About 1894 the Westville press was published by Thomas O'Brien. The plant was destroyed by fire about 1898. THE FREE LANCE was founded by Robbie Albert MacDonald and was sold by him to John R. Duff. He in turn sold it to Dan McCuaig and he sold it to the late J.W.H. Sutherland, who ran it for many years as well as attending to his duties in the Drummond Office. This plant was later closed and the machinery moved to the New Glasgow Evening News offices. It was a distinct loss to the town of Westville but was dictated by economic conditions.

In 1904 the Egerton Tramway was built and eventually ran from the Westville rink to the lower end of Trenton. This ran until 1920 when the system changed over to buses.

In 1899 Simon Murray, Pictou Landing, built a large skating rink in Westville. It was at that time the largest rink east of Montreal. The rink was burned in the 1920's and was never rebuilt.


The Oddfellows organized early in Westville and by 1870 built a small hall. In 1897 they built a much larger hall on the land used as a parking lot for St. Paul's Church. It was destroyed by fire in the early 1920's. The site of their present hall at the corner of Main and College Streets was formerly a large bowling alley.

The Masons organized in December, 1868 and erected their hall in 1885. The Orange Lodge organized early and built their hall about 1889. The Knights of Pythias did not organize until 1900 and purchased their building in 1908.

The Pythian Sisters, Rebekahs and Eastern Star Lodges are of long standing and were all doing well.

Before 1885 The Intercolonial Coal Company sold a large block of land in the Highfield district. The sale was in building lots and many lovely homes were erected in this district. Similarly in the lower end, The Acadia Company sold lots all the way to Bear Brook so that upon incorporation the town took in 42 miles of streets.

In my opinion the year 1910 was the peak of prosperity in the Town of Westville. Noted always for sport, some will remember the old time cricketers, John Johnstone, Cookie Johnstone, James Thompson, Sandy Wilson, William Maxwell, Michael Muir, William Gray, Murdoch Gray, Jim MacNeil, D. Roy, R. Wright, R. S. Steel and many others.

In later years Westville produced many baseball greats, including John and Burns Dunbar, Billy and Andy Richardson, Cubby Oliver, Dan MacMillan, Jack Darroch, and a host of others. In its time Westville also had lacrosse, football and hockey teams. Today the only sport in town is carried on by a few schoolboy players.

Railway service has declined from four trains a day each way and several workmen's locals to one mixed train a day. From 1899 onward, we had a company of Pictou Highlanders, the old 78th Regiment in Westville. This company was first commanded by Captain G. S. Robertson. At that time I served as a private. In 1910 when they became the Pictou Highlanders, Westville provided No's 3 and 4 Companies commanded by Captains Carthew and J. A. MacKenzie. In the first German war Westville sent 600 Officers and men into the service of their country. Today there is no Militia Company, and no armouries. This can only be attributed to apathy on the part of the citizens of Westville.
Nowhere in Canada can you find a more patient, friendly, or home-loving people than in the town of Westville. It has always been unfortunate that so many boys and girls had to leave Westville to seek opportunity abroad. One can travel from Atlantic to Pacific and will always run across former Westville boys and girls.

Having so many people with the same family names, mainly MacDonalds and the other Macs, Westville was always noted for its nicknames.
At one time the town had two large and prosperous hotels; the Dufferin, later called the Arlington, run by Bill MacDonald and Cookie Johnstone, and the Westville House run for years by William Johnstone and his son Jim. Today the site of the Dufferin is occupied by Wright's garage, the Westville House by Harris' Store.

The Westville Board of Trade has recently been revived, after twenty years. It is to be hoped they may be successful in getting back some of the prosperity Westville has lost.

A few old timers will remember the bicycles with a front wheel about five feet in diameter, and a very small wheel behind. One was owned by F. H. S. Calnex of the Acadia Office and the other two by clerks in the Union Store. One of them was in use for many years after the safety bike came into use, and was driven by John R. Duff. The first safety bikes in town were owned by George E. Munro, John Lloyd and Dr. Moore. They had solid tires but after a year or two the three gentlemen named, bought the first pneumatic tired bikes and for a decade bikes were very popular. In fact, two bicycle liveries did a thriving business.

In 1912 James F. Johnstone bought a Ford car and Norrie Grant bought a small roadster with a chain drive.
The Westville House was built by Dan Munro and run by him for a number of years, when it was taken over by the Johnstones who ran it for many years.

The Dufferin was built about 1887 by William MacDonald and operated by him until his death. It was patronized largely by the commercial trade and by the many concert companies on the road. Many will remember Zero Lemon, Price Webber, Wilmot Young, the Humpty Dumpty show, Uncle Tom's Cabin, and dozens of other shows that played in the Orange Hall. The hotel was taken over by James (Cookie) Johnstone and operated by him until his death in 1911. It was later operated by Tom Gorman and others, and after a fire in the 1920's was torn down. Westville had not had a hotel since.

How did Westville get its name? As the village grew it was decided by the citizens that it should have a name other than Gairloch Road or Acadian Mines, so a meeting was held to select a name. Some wanted it called Ayr, some Airdrie, and other Scottish names were proposed. The meeting was at a deadlock until one man proposed the name Westville, explaining that it was west of Albion Mines, as Stellarton was then known. This seemed to strike most of the people as a suitable name and it was adopted.

The first Town Clerk was Alex. W. MacBean, who served until 1920. He was succeeded by Thomas W. Murray, and at his death he was succeeded by his daughter Lyda. She held the office until her death in recent years. She was succeeded by John A. MacGregor.
The first postmaster was Duncan Balfour. At his death his son John held a temporary appointment for a short time until the new Post Office was finished when James Goode was given the appointment. At his death he was succeeded by his son Ira.

When moving pictures first came out, James F. Johnstone and H. A. MacQuarrie started the Comet, in the George E. Munro building. They also ran a bowling alley. The Orange Hall ran the Empire theatre, and the Crescent was built where the Roxy now stands.
In the early days of the silent pictures they had vaudeville for five and ten cent admission. After the Comet the Empire closed, the Crescent continued until the 1920's when it was destroyed by fire.

At one time there were more than 1,000 miners in the Westville mines where today there is scarcely 100. In those times Westville was a bustling community with ten or twelve trains a day, a skating rink, a bowling alley, a Y.M.C.A. and a Gymnasium, two thriving and busy hotels, travelling concert companies, baseball and foot-ball and hockey. Today there is little community life except card parties and bingo.

Street Names

Many of the town streets are named after the families who settled there first, such as Cowan, MacKay, Irving, Duff, Clish, Oliver, Grant, Picken and Foley, also MacQuarrie and Purvis Avenue. Office Street was so named because the office of the Black Diamond Company was on that street. Ballarat, Bendigo and Castlemain Streets were named after famous gold diggings in Australia; Sodom St. after the famous City of Bible times; College St. after a supposed College grant. On an old map of Westville there was a Cunker St. which ran from about the property of Mrs. Jessie Wright, around past the front of the property of Mrs. William Rundle and the Simonite property to a Mr. Munro's, who lived in the rear of the Simonite property at one time. Hoyt Street was named after Jessie Hoyt, one time manager of the Acadia Company.

Westville has had many native sons of which we can be proud. These are men who have reached the top in their chosen profession. Among them are one Supreme Court Judge, many Lawyers, Doctors, Clergymen, Accountants, Engineers, Mining experts of all kinds, soldiers and, last but not least Newspaper Editors.

The late J. W. H. Sutherland was a close personal friend of the writer in our young days and we were out walking every fine Sunday afternoon to keep our weight down. One Sunday on passing a beautiful garden owned by Joe Leese, we were struck by its beauty and went in to have a closer look. I introduced Mr. Sutherland to the two gardeners who were brothers by the name of Humphreyson. Mr. Sutherland promised to give them a write-up in the next Free Lance, which was printed in Westville then. On the day of the issue, John Humphreyson bought six copies to send to friends in England. He was amazed to see a very nice article, headed in bold type, that John and Aaron Humphreyson were great grandfathers. This was quite a joke on J. W. H. for the next week, as both of these elderly gentlemen were confirmed bachelors. J.W.H. explained in the next issue that he meant great gardeners and blamed it on the typesetters.

Another incident that I remember concerned a Mr. Donald MacDonald, who, as there were so many MacDonalds, was known as Donald Slash. He lived on South Main St. Donald had been working in Glace Bay and decided to come back to Westville where his family had remained. He had money enough to take him overland as far as the Strait of Canso. It was before the days of railway and telephone but there was a telegraph service and Donald, being Scottish, sent the following brief telegram to his wife: "Stuck at the Gut, send $10.00."

Another story was told about Donald. He was a great horse lover and generally kept a horse although he had little or no work for one, and often, rather than harness up after he went home from the mine, he would toss a bundle of hay or a bag of oats on his shoulders and carry it home. A friend meeting him one day, said "Donald, why don't you make the horse do that?" Donald replied, "I'm the horse, Donald is in the stable."

In the ninety years of its existence, I only remember five black people residing here and these only for a short time. They were Jim Cook who worked on the Acadia Bankhead 75 years ago, Henry Johnston who worked here in 1887, Bill Moses who worked in Danny Robertson's livery stable, Walter Johnson who worked in a pool room, and Walter Boyce who played the mandolin in the Crescent Theatre before the First War.

A final incident worthy of note is that in the R.C.M.P. Chapel in Regina, there are two memorial windows that were financed by the Maritime Provinces Association of the city of Regina and donated as a memorial to the sons of the Maritime Provinces whose lives had been given in the course of their duties while serving in the North West Mounted Police; and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The choice of a Mountie to model for the windows was that of a Westville boy, John Roy Fraser, (now a Sergeant) who is the son of Mr. and Mrs. John William Fraser of Purvis Avenue. The unveiling and dedication of the windows took place at the Chapel in Regina on 18 June 1944.


As sons of the early settlers had played in the Albion Mines band, Westville had a Brass Band almost from the start and in 1883 at the Brigade Camp at Brown Point; they played for the 78th Regiment. They continued active until 1910 when they joined with Stellarton as the 78th Highlanders Regiment Band. At the start of the 1914 - 1918 War they enlisted as a unit and went overseas in 1915 as the 85th Regiment Band under Captain Dan Mooney. In 1921 they again joined as Pictou Highlanders Regiment Band until the outbreak of the Second World War, when they formed the nucleus of the Aldershot Camp Band under Charles B. Wilson's leadership, and who had recently reorganized it. We also had a boy's Pipe Band for a few years, and now have the Dunvegan Girl's Pipe Band, who furnishes the music for our parades.

Copied from the New Glasgow Evening News dated 31 Dec. 1962 by John R. Fraser, Gagetown, N.B., 26 Feb. 1994.


Return to Electronic Text Menu
Return to Main Page of Pictou GenWeb